Looking at the schedule, how good will Bucs be?

by Gary Shelton on April 21, 2017 · 2 comments

in general, NFL, Tampa Bay Bucs

Winston will have to go head-to-head against the best quarterbacks./JEFFREY S. KING

Winston will have to go head-to-head against the best quarterbacks./JEFFREY S. KING

Friday, 4 a.m.

The first thing you see is Tom Brady, dropping back to pass.

The next thing you imagine is Bill Belichick, scowling across the field.

The  thing after that you consider is all of the rings on all of the fingers.

And finally, the thing that hits you is this: Here they come.

At the release of the Tampa Bay Bucs' schedule Thursday night, the first thing that catches your eye is a prime-time game against the five-time champion – and recently reloaded – New England Patriots. Oh, there are other games that eventually will grab your eye: Another prime-time game against the other Super Bowl team, the Atlanta Falcons. A chance to get frostbite on Dec. 3 in Green Bay. A murderer's row to close the season against division opponents Atlanta, Carolina and New Orleans.

But first, you have to consider that game against the Patriots. Want to talk about prime time? That's a prime-time game.

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David ,McCoy have a lot of weapons to stop./JEFFREY S.  KING

David ,McCoy have a lot of weapons to stop./JEFFREY S. KING

The game will happen on Oct. 5, the fifth game of the season. In other words, even if Roger Goodell suspends Tom Brady again, he'll be back.

The when and what time of it were the important things that were announced on Thursday. We already knew who the Bucs played and where. But there is something about the actual dates that crystallizes the journey ahead.

The Bucs will face their share of quarterbacks in the coming year. They play two games against Drew Brees (first in the league in 2017), two against Matt Ryan (second), one against Aaron Rodgers (fourth), one against Matt Stafford (sixth) and one against Carson Palmer (ninth). Two-time Super Bowl winner Eli Manning was 13th.

Brady was only 20th, but he was suspended for four games. Newton was 21st, but he started only 14 games. Tyrod Taylor was 25th and Ryan Tannehill was 26th.

Consider Jameis Winston, going head-to-head against those guys. He'd better be better.

The Bucs will open on the road in Miami against the Dolphins, a team that rallied for a 10-6 record and the playoffs last year. That was slightly better than the Bucs, but Tampa Bay has won four of the last five games. Reunion? Brett Grimes (and Miko) return to Miami.

In week two, the Bucs play against Chicago at home, an opponent that was a rare pushover a year ago in a 36-10 win. Chicago will be starting over; no Jay Cutler. Reunion? The Bucs face former quarterback Mike Glennon.

In week three, Tampa Bay has its first-ever game at Bank Stadium as it plays the Vikings. Fortunately, it shouldn't be cold. Minnesota was third against the pass last year; Chicago was seventh. In other words, Jameis Winston has to be sharp early. Reunion: None, unless the Bucs end up signing Adrian Peterson.

Week four is a late-afternoon (4:05) game against the New York Giants. Eli Manning has had success against the Bucs, who will have to be sharp. Reunion: Former Bucs assistant Mike Sullivan is the Giants's offensive coordinator. A possible reunion: If Doug Martin is still with the team, he'll be eligible to come off suspension.

Then come the Patriots, the NFL's smartest opponent. The Pats have had an impressive off-season (as if Brady needed the help). A bit of advice. If you get up after three quarters, don't turn into the Atlanta Falcons. Reunion: LeGarrette Blount might end up with the Pats again.

Week six is a trip to Arizona, where the Bucs were worn out the last time they visited the desert. The Cardinals, when healthy, have one of the finest secondaries in the NFL. Reunion: Bucs' general manager Jason Licht was a front office assistant.

In week seven, the Bucs travel to Buffalo, where Rex Ryan doesn't work anymore. The Bills were 7-9, and they look to be on the rebuild. The Bucs have played only one game in Buffalo before this one.

In week eight, the Bucs are home against the Carolina Panthers, whose fall from the Super Bowl was one of the starkest since, well, the Bucs after the 2002 season. Depending on Cam Newton's health, you'd expect Carolina to be better this year. Wouldn't you?

The Bucs travel to New Orleans the next week, and once again, they'll try to make Drew Brees show his age. But Brees is a tough opponent, and he can wear down the best secondary. But the Saints seem to be on the decline.

After that, the Bucs are home against another declining team, the New York Jets. Who knows who will be quartebacking the Jets by Nov. 12. It might be former Buc Josh McCown. Reunion: It could be McCown, and it could possible be screwup Austin Seferian-Jenkins.

In Week 11, the Bucs have a bye week. Even that's a signal that the league expects Tampa Bay to be better. It's the latest bye week for the team since 1990 (week 14).

The Bucs come back after the bye for a game in Atlanta and their first game in Mercedes-Benz Stadium. The division is always a little different than you would expect the week after. Reunion: How about Dirk Koetter and Mike Smith?

In Week 13, the Bucs go to Lambeau Field. You can smell the brats cooking in the parking lot. Aaron Rodgers is still one of the best quarterbacks in the league. It'll be a tough one.

The Bucs come back home in Week 14 to play the Detroit Lions. The Lions were a surprise playoff team last year because of a superb season by Matt Stafford.

Then comes the closing schedule against the division. The Bucs hope they're still within striking distance. First come the Falcons, in a prime-time game at home. Last year, one of the Bucs' most disappointing games was a prime time loss to Atlanta.

The Bucs are on the road in Week 15 with a Christmas Eve game against the Panthers.

Tampa Bay closes its season out in Week 17 with a game against the New Orleans Saints. The Saints beat the Bucs in week 15 last season, closing the door on the playoffs.

So looking at the schedule, how optimistic are you? Do you see 10 wins? Do you see the playoffs? Do you see a better Jamies Winston? Do you see the cornerbacks standing up to the quarterbacks? Do you see the defensive ends breaking through the offensive lines? Do you see the team, like last year, going on a streak where it wins games few people expect?

A hunch: The division results are going to be big. This team needs to win four, maybe five in the NFC South.

Let's be honest. The Bucs will be an underdog against New England, against Atlanta (probably twice), against Green Bay and against Arizona. The Bucs will play toss-up games against the Dolphins, the Giants, the Panthers (twice) and the Lions. They'll be clear favorites against the Bears, the Jets, the Bills, the Saints (twice) and the Vikings. Bleacher Report calls it at 10-6.

And you? Looking at all that, ask yourself. Do you see the playoffs scheduled?

Isn't it about time?

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